Platform: Brutal Truths
Curated by Anne Ellegood, Executive Director, Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
This year’s Platform projects consider how the provocative and potent genres of satire, caricature, and the grotesque have endured through time—and are being taken up by contemporary artists as sharp tools of social critique. At a global moment of heightened political partisanship and corruption, mounting threats to basic human rights, and frequent environmental calamities, artists’ keen observations and sharp wit serve to illuminate the perils of these issues and to encourage civic engagement. Brutal Truths underscores the need for artists to be able to interpret recent cultural and political events in their work freely and unfettered, argues for art as a catalyst for public discourse, and offers viewpoints that utilize humor, exaggeration, and the outlandish to emphasize the urgency of the issues they highlight, while simultaneously imparting a dose of levity. For centuries, artists have acted as incisive social critics, and there seems to be no better time to call attention to contemporary artists who draw upon these traditions with fresh insight and formal ingenuity.
Charlie Billingham, A Night at the Opera, 2020
Presented by Morán Morán, Los Angeles
Charlie Billingham's new installation is comprised of stenciled wall paintings with several figurative paintings hung on top. In the tradition of William Hogarth and other great British satirists, Billingham's work recalls satirical prints of the late 18th- and early 19th-century that skewered patrician society and corrupt politicians. Dressed in the coattails, breeches, and bonnets of an earlier era, Billingham's figures are often crowded together or literally piled on top of one another in scenes of public unrest or upheaval. One painting portrays a congested group of spectators, their corpulent pink, fleshy faces jeering at an unknown subject. Another portrays a large man carrying several bodies out of a crowded room, as if taking out the trash. Billingham's resplendent color and graphic detail serve to exaggerate and amplify the messages of his narratives, quoting the long history of social satire in England while emphasizing the need in today's atmosphere of intensely divided opinion for these powerful yet humorous forms of critique in today's divisive atmosphere. Location: East End, Pier 94.
Marnie Weber, Log Lady & Dirty Bunny and Pig Host sculpture, both 2009
Presented by Simon Lee Gallery, London, New York, Hong Kong
Marnie Weber has explored the realms of the grotesque, carnivalesque, and absurd in narrative sculptural tableau, paintings, collage, and performance since the 1990s. Creating fantastical landscapes, her work references mythological traditions while simultaneously taking up topical themes such as gender, family dynamics, and access to power, through such archetypes as the witch, the clown, and animals. Weber describes all her characters as "alter egos," and Log Lady & Dirt Bunny and Pig Host sculpture (both from
2009) feature animal-human hybrids that probe the darker
sides of human behavior. Location: Champagne Lounge, Pier 94.
Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg, This is Heaven, 2019
Presented by Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, Los Angeles
This Is Heaven is an immersive, surreal environment comprised of a video projection and group of sculptures of strangely prehistoric-looking birds feeding on verdant tropical flowers by collaborative duo Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg. The centerpiece is a stop-motion animation done in the artists' now signature style with a haunting electronic score. Featuring dark humor and sense of the grotesque, the work explores subliminal human impulses, such as lust and greed, to explore the tensions between ideas about morality and the common good and society's preoccupation with individuality, luxury, and pleasure. This Is Heaven features a kingly ruler on a gold motorcycle obsessed with money and treasure at the expense of all that surrounds him. Djurberg and Berg's narratives are as engrossing as they are repugnant, revealing the ways in which our culture's focus on personal achievement and success creates monstrosities of unhinged id and the drive for self-satisfaction. Location: adjacent to the Champagne Lounge, Pier 94.
Edward and Nancy Kienholz, The Caddy Court, 1986–1987
Presented by L.A. Louver, Los Angeles
A 1978 Cadillac becomes the site for a tableau of taxidermy, historic books, an American flag, and a gavel in Edward and Nancy Kienholz's installation, The Caddy Court. Widely celebrated for their bold and intricate assemblage installations that comment on the deeply ingrained biases of American life and history that result in pronounced sexism, abuses of power, and racial violence, The Caddy Court refers to the early days of the US Supreme Court, which traveled from state to state operating as a circuit court. Presented as grotesquely surreal taxidermy, the judges hold court in a sequestered chamber, isolated and removed from the citizens they serve. As the Supreme Court faces one of its most controversial benches and consequential dockets in memory, the Kienholz's The Caddy Court is a potent examination of the power of the court and a call for public discourse. Location: Town Square, Pier 94.
Trulee Hall, Eves' Mime Ménage and SexyTime Rock Variations, both 2019
Presented by Maccarone West, Los Angeles
Embracing outlandish abundance and absurdity, Trulee Hall explores gender roles and the expectations placed upon women in a society still rampant with sexism and misogyny. Featuring the videos SexyTime Rock Variations and Eves' Mime Ménage, which combine claymation, CGI, and live-action, the installation also includes painting and sculpture. Described by one critic as "American Grotesque," Hall takes up the hyper-sexualization of the female body in our culture with equal parts perverse humor and genuine shock at the state of affairs when it comes to female empowerment. The installation is fantastical and uncanny, pointing to how ludicrous our inability to move beyond heteronormative gender roles really is. Location: West End, Pier 94.
Christine Wang, Meme Girl, 2020
Presented by Night Gallery, Los Angeles
San Francisco-based painter Christine Wang's bold and raucous paintings combine images with text to humorously confront a wide range of subjects—from women's rage to the inexcusable denial of the realities of climate change. Wang's work unapologetically critiques the way images and opinion circulate rapidly and without much thought on digital platforms, and the abundance of memes that distill large subjects into image and sound bites. Blowing up appropriated imagery and pithy texts into large-scale paintings, the works relish in satire and disturbing humor, yet Wang is intent on grappling with, and taking up as subject matter, the very serious and daunting realities of gun violence, sexual harassment, and climate change. Location: Center, Pier 90.
Summer Wheat, Sand Castles, 2020
Presented by Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles
Queens-based artist Summer Wheat debuts a 16-foot-long painting titled Sand Castles, designed specifically for The Armory Show 2020. For several years, Wheat has explored the archetype of the female figure in vibrant, narrative tableaus that resemble dense woven tapestries. Using a technique of pushing acrylic paint through fine wire mesh, the figures emerge in richly textured surfaces that coalesce into a type of contemporary history painting. Sand Castles depicts a community of women in acts of labor and leisure; a beach scene featuring women bathing, fishing, cracking crabs, swatting flies, sunbathing, and eating strawberries. Wheat's painting make reference to ancient traditions, from Egyptian pictography to Roman gardens of antiquity, but her focus is a current-day critique of how women's labor is often unacknowledged or diminished. Through her strategic use of exaggerated and contorted female forms, nearly psychedelic color patterns, and a pronounced sense of energy, Wheat elevates the quotidian experiences of women and celebrates their ability to collaborate and rely upon one another. Location: Entrance of VIP Lounge, Pier 90.